Witches of Newburyport – The Witch Elizabeth Morse

Since I covered a famous ghost in Newburyport, now it’s time for our famous witch.


Just as Newburyport beat out Boston as the first place to take care of the King’s Tea (We burned it while Boston just dumped it in the bay) apparently this followed a trend because Newburyport in 1679 was the scene of witch hysteria twelve years before it struck Salem.


Goody Morse was an industrious elderly cobbler who lived with his wife, Elizabeth and their young grandson.       Mr. Morse began to complain to everyone who would listen about the terrible haunting that would occur in their home which lay east of Market Square.     Stones would be hurled against the house at night and when he would come out, more stones from the dark would be thrown forcing him inside.    Shoes and other items would strike him and his wife at the most peculiar times or objects would come tumbling down the chimney.        One day, he awoke and a large pig was sitting in his living room and the front door locked.


He finally told a neighbor, Caleb Powell, who was a mate on one of the ships.      Caleb had come home one night from the docks and noticed as he passed the window of the Morses the lad throwing a boot at Goody while the old man was kneeled in prayer!     Thinking he would deliver his poor neighbor and teach the brat a lesson, he offered to take the boy for a short time.   He promised (This is where he made a mistake!) the haunting would stop immediately.


Sure enough, Caleb took the boy and the "haunting" stopped immediately.    His reward?    He was arrested as a wizard and sent to prison in Ipswich.     Some witnesses included a fellow sailor who swore if there were any wizards he was sure Caleb Powell was one.      Another witness said she overheard Mr. Powell proclaiming to Mr. Morse he had broken the enchantment.       The court decided to convict him of witchcraft but before they could grab him, he escaped and hightailed it out of town.      So the court decided to try Elizabeth as a witch instead.     Again, a troop of neighbors came forth with strange tales, mostly those with grudges.     One witness, Zechariah Davis had promised to bring some foul over from Salisbury for Elizabeth and he forgot to do it three or four times until she exploded her wrath on him.    That very night he claimed three calves in the pen began to roar and dance and stand on their tails like dogs.   He also claimed they had never done it before or after.     This was the kind of nonsense and state of mind in Essex County in those days!


Sure enough, she was sentenced to death and to be executed in Newburyport.     Fortunately after the poor cobbler appealed twice to the court, Governor Bradstreet saved her from execution but not from the charges!      She lay in prison for a year and then was allowed to go home but basically was under house arrest.    She was not to go above 16 rods (264′) from her house and only to the meeting house when summoned.      Fortunately for her, she lived downtown!


Thankfully, Newburyport was spared from the witch hysteria by a level headed Governor!

-P. Preservationist
Yankee Heritage Magazine, Vol 1, No. 1, The Journeyman Press, Newburyport, MA.
A Book of New England Legends and Folklore, by Samuel Adams Drake, 1883.

About P. Preservationist

Dedicated to the Enrichment & Preservation of Newburyport
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